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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Battle of Dueling Titans: Attack on Titan GNs 10-12

Spoiler note: Post contains spoilers for most major events in Attack on Titan/Shingeki no Kyojin up to chapter fifty.
With no combat gear and Wall Rose breached, the 104th scrambles to evacuate the villages in the Titans' path. On their way to the safety of Wall Sheena, they decide to spend the night in Utgard Castle. But their sanctuary becomes a slaughterhouse when they discover that, for some reason, these Titans attack at night!
I don't say this about a lot of manga-ka of popular series, since I suspect that fame can cause flustered souls to start throwing stuff at the drawingboard to see what sticks and will keep them from being cancelled, but I have faith that Hajime Isayama knows where this story is going. Isayama has a plan for the fearless soldiers of a cringing humanity hiding behind its massive walls and it obviously involves Titans - lots and lots of Titans.
At this point, around the volume ten point, it becomes obvious that Titans are all around us. They are in the ranks of the Survey Corps, they train and make merry with their associates and enjoy a drink or two at night. They live, love and betray their friends. Titans: they're just like us! After the stunning revelation that Eren is not the only human-Titan in the group with the battle against Annie, Titans keep popping up out of nowhere.

Of all the Titan revelations in these three volumes, Ymir's surprised me the least. It was heavily telegraphed in the flashback when Historia looked at the snowy and staggering slope Ymir had supposedly dragged their comrade over - the kind of slope a Titan could easily bound over like a little hill. But Ymir's story is also the most heartbreaking, and her relationship with Historia is what makes these volumes and their narratives wholly unique in the Shingeki 'verse.

Source: Nemi20 at DeviantArt

Because, really, Ymir and Historia is a love story. I'm not trying to be gushy about it, but of all the relationships in this series so far, I want these two young women to defy the odds and live and live boldly and together. They've been through so much already, on par with Eren and Mikasa; in fact, comparing the two couples wouldn't be too off par, and I think Isayama is already setting up that parallel for volume 13 (may it be delivered into my hands soon!).
The other two Titans in human clothing are Bertolt and Reiner, aka two characters I've never really had any strong feelings for one way or another until now. Being Titans certainly haven't given me any reason to like them, especially since they are not at all like Eren in their Titan-ness. There's a lot of rage and frustration shared between Bertolt and Reiner, and it really colors all of their scenes. I'd really like to know what the hell happened to make them go against the Survey Corps, but I imagine it's more complicated that it seems.
What we know so far is that both young men are working for shadowy, unseen others, others that include Titans not yet revealed, and they try to argue that their horribleness and killing of human beings is excusable. Considering the amount of mental and physical control Reiner and Bertolt have over their Titan selves and how they've been barreling through humanity's defenses for so long, this sounds like an absolute crock of sap.
Source: MasihIL at DeviantArt
The person who really hates this trio of volumes might be Eren himself, who has turned into a bit of political blackmail between the Survey Corps and the Military Police and the unknown group that our two turncoats answer to. When he's not being used as Titan bait, he's being kidnapped and held as a possible gift for Reiner's masters as well as a bargaining chip for Ymir's freedom. He's gone from blistering mad white knight to a pent-up knight in distress, although his newly won freedom at the end of book 12 will probably see him take up the mantle of the over zealous Titan slayer yet again, this time to bring back Ymir and kill his kidnappers.
Isayama's artwork has hit a plateau, skill wise. It's no secret that the manga-ka's art started out rough at first and has slowly improved with each volume. It's not as rough as before, although Isayama's penchance for exaggerated reactions to situations and the grotesquely built bodies of the Titans holds steady. But now that Attack on Titan has sprinted into the double-digits, Isayama is sticking to his style and it works for him, which means he's not hitting any new levels. It's a shame - so many successful long-term manga-ka can have their art shift several times over their career - but if Isayama keeps making it work, I'm not bothered by it.
The 'fake previews' at the end of each volume still tickle me pink. It's a place where Isayama can cut loose and have fun with his characters, if only for 2-4 pages, but they are a welcome breather after 150+ pages of gore, guts, and hopeless situations. Schoolgirl Mikasa is cute in an AU kuudere “Rei Ayanam in the last episode of Evangelion TV” kind of way.

I powered through these volumes of Attack on Titan in one sitting. I could barely stand to put them down. Isayama may not be the most stylish artist and he may get heavyhanded with the dialogue about humanity's triumphs and losses, but he can whip up a reader into quite the page-flipping frenzy. Considering how humongous Shingeki fandom has become in such a short time, Isayama has enough wind in his sails to make his work a manga classic of this decade. Just don't expect his art to get any better.